CLEVELAND -- As the long-term effects of sports-related collisions and brain trauma continue to cause concern, Cleveland Clinic is teaming with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) to assess and improve the brain health and overall well-being of retired professional football players.
The NFLPA program, called "The Trust," will offer physical and neurological evaluations to former players, followed by a comprehensive plan to relieve symptoms, restore function, improve cognitive skills, and slow neurodegeneration for those who have sustained recurrent head trauma.
The Cleveland Clinic will host players at three sites – on its main campus in Cleveland, at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, Fla. and at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
Players can also choose to visit the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. or Tulane University in New Orleans.
"Athletic injuries and sports-related brain trauma have become part of the public consciousness and are being viewed as legitimate public health problems," says Jay Alberts, Ph.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center. "Former NFL players, in particular, are at increased risk for neurological disease. The goal of this program is to identify potential problems -- physical, neurological or cognitive -- earlier, which may lead to earlier interventions and treatments."
Players who choose to take part in the program will begin with a comprehensive medical history and exam that will include the player's injury history, functional symptoms and personal concerns. The program will include a brain scan with a functional MRI, cognitive evaluations, psychological interviews, and balance assessments, in addition to cardiovascular evaluations, a prostate screening, nutrition counseling, and life skills consultation.
"The cumulative effect of repeated collisions and brain trauma are now recognized as major factors in declining health -- both mental and physical -- among retired athletes who participated in contact sports," says Charles Bernic, M.D., associate medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. "These injuries can have lifelong ramifications, manifesting as cognitive impairment, decreased motor functioning, incessant pain, and psychological/behavioral issues, such as irritability, impaired insight and impulse control, paranoia, violent outbursts, and even suicide. By taking a proactive approach, this program is helping retired players be assessed, diagnosed and treated before symptoms arise."
After their visits, players will be given personalized short-term and long-term treatment plans customized to meet their specific needs. The plan will include ongoing communication between the player and his healthcare team, whether by telephone, computer, video conferencing or letters, based on the patient's preference.
"If problems arise, we can bring them in before they become too serious," Alberts says. "Each player will leave here with their own neurological passport that outlines exactly where they are cognitively and neurologically. If changes occur after they go home, we can intervene in a systematic and strategic way."
In addition to "The Trust," Cleveland Clinic has been at the forefront of concussion treatment and research, developing the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Assessment System (C3), an iPad app offers a global assessment of concussion symptoms, including a symptoms checklist, cognitive/memory testing, reaction time testing, and vestibular/balance testing. Cleveland Clinic researchers are also developing an intelligent mouthguard and a blood test to assess concussions; studying designs for better youth football helmets in association with NFL charities; and working with the Nevada Athletic Commission on a landmark study with professional fighters to determine whether MRIs of the brain can detect subtle changes that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning.
The Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center offers concussion evaluations and management through a collaborative team effort made up of primary care sports medicine physicians, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, certified athletic trainers, vestibular therapists, radiologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, and researchers, all dedicated to patient recovery. NFLPA members interested in more information from Cleveland Clinic can call 216-445-9815.
NFLPA members can learn more about The Trust at www.playerstrust.com or by calling (202) 212-6180 or 1-866-725-0063.